The Matt Lauer Catastrophe Edition

The Matt Lauer Catastrophe Edition

A failure of competence or a collapse of journalistic ethics or both?

!!!i_00i_207_tnIt has to be difficult for anyone with any knowledge of journalism to watch the Matt Lauer disaster entitled the “Commander in Chief Forum” without suffering immense pain. 

What did he think he was doing? He had a week to prepare. Did he use any of it? 

Basic journalistic ethics when faced with a “forum” between two candidates would indicate that you should offer both candidates similar treatment. It absolutely doesn’t have to be equal in every way but there should be level of similarity between the two sets of questions so that we have an impression of fairness. We didn’t get that – not even close. 

Why? No one knows. The web and the media are running all kinds of ideas. I’m not very interested. This is a failure of business ethics. We have an election to determine the leader of this nation and one candidate was clobbered for the umpteenth time about the private e-mail scandal to such a length of time that all the rest of the questioning had to be limited in time. The other candidate was given soft balls so soft and pudgy, it was difficult to believe what you were seeing. And when Trump lied about matters of public record, our intrepid interviewer just when on with another soft ball question. 

i_00i_197_tnOne commentator said that she had not believed that Trump could be elected President until she saw this program. 

I fully agree. Clinton was asked difficult questions as if to knock her off balance early on while Trump was simply allowed to hold forth on his ideas even when they didn’t make logical or political sense. 

What NBC news should have done instead of relying on a saccharine morning host was to have found someone in the news division willing to do their homework and demonstrate some journalistic integrity. 

They didn’t and the ethical failure is more theirs than Matt Lauer’s. It’s their business to know who to deploy and they sent their second or third string in. 

And they may have wanted to softball Trump and continue to profit from the ratings he generates while being afraid of provoking the wrath of the often mercurial candidate. 

I don’t know but if this is the kind of interviewing and questioning the candidates are going to get in the debates, who wins is anybody’s guess. Softballing one candidate and being tough on the other serves to level the playing field. 

i_00i_113_tnWe used to have journalists. Where are they now that we need them?

James Pilant

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The New York Times

Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has had a few controversies related to the military. You might recall him feuding with a Gold Star family, or mocking Senator John McCain of Arizona for being captured in Vietnam, or likening his prep-school attendance to military experience.

Mr. Lauer evidently didn’t recall any of that. He kicked off by asking Mr. Trump what in his life had prepared him to be president, the kind of whiffle ball job-interview question you ask the boss’s nephew you know you have to hire anyway.

Trevor Noah Rips Matt Lauer for ‘Terrible’ Job on Trump’s ‘Blatant Lies’ The Daily Show 9/8/16 – YouTube

Network Privately Admits Interview was “Disaster”

One executive, speaking anonymously, was blunt about it: “Disaster.”

The day after Lauer’s back-to-back interviews of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, several high ranking sources at the network said they hear the criticism and agree with at least some of it.

Even his internal defenders acknowledge flaws in the forum’s production.

Lauer was widely criticized for failing to fact-check or follow up when Trump falsely claimed that he was opposed to the Iraq war when it started. Some viewers thought Lauer held Clinton to a higher standard than Trump. The Clinton campaign agreed — it blasted off a fund-raising email on Thursday afternoon titled “Matt Lauer.”

But this was not merely partisan warfare. Prominent journalists were sharply critical of NBC. And several people who were sitting in the audience told CNN that they were frustrated too.


Authoritarian Farce

Trump played his usual tricks. When he was quizzed about foreign policy, he changed the subject to trade. When he was pressed for solutions, he talked instead about President Obama’s failures. When he was asked about atweet in which he had blamed military sexual assaults on the integration of women, he acted as though he had always believed the problem was insufficient prosecution. He also claimed, contrary to fact—and undisputed by moderator Matt Lauer—that he had been “totally against the war in Iraq.”

Trump said at least two newsworthy things. First, he bragged that Mexico’s finance minister had just been ousted for setting up Trump’s meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “The people that arranged the trip to Mexico have been forced out of government,” Trump said. “That’s how well we did. And that’s how well we’re going to have to do.” This boast tells you two things about Trump. It tells you that he measures success by the discord he sows in countries he visits. And it tells you that he likes to humiliate these countries.

Second, Trump claimed that in the classified intelligence briefing he received on Aug. 17, he learned “that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts” had recommended “in almost every instance.” That’s quite a claim, since the briefing was prepared by James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence. The session was classified, so Clapper and his briefers can’t rebut Trump in public. This tells you how Trump would treat classified information as president: He would lie about it for political gain and dare the intelligence community to violate the law by exposing him.

A Waste of Time

The moderator, NBC’s Matt Lauer (who proved himself unready from Moment 1), grilled Hillary Clinton on her emails—entirely appropriate, but then two of the veterans in the audience also grilled her on the emails. (Were the questions screened?) By the time Lauer got around to asking her about the Iran nuclear deal and she started to explain the deal’s context, he interrupted and urged her to make her answer quick. He did that a couple of times.

Lauer put some challenging questions to Donald Trump as well, asking, for instance, what in his experience made him qualified to be commander-in-chief. He replied, “I built a great company, I’ve been all over the world, I’ve dealt with foreign countries. … I have great judgment, I know what’s going on”—saying (and being asked) nothing about his company’s four bankruptcies, the fleecing of vendors, or the fundamental difference between running a business (where there’s a clear profit-loss tally) and running a country (where there are competing views of what the goals should be).

NBC’s Commander In Chief Forum was a failure

There were no questions about Trump’s recently fired campaign manager and hisshady, likely illegal financial ties to a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. There were no questions about Trump’s insane posture on nuclear weapons, or his intention toreinstate torture as official policy of the United States, or his enthusiasm for committing war crimes. Lauer did ask, however, if Trump felt he was “prepared” to be commander-in-chief. Trump, you’ll be shocked to learn, said yes.

 As for Hillary Clinton’s portion of the forum, it wasn’t handled much better, nor was it any more enlightening. There were the requisite questions about Clinton’s email server, which resulted in the Democratic presidential nominee spending several minutes discussing the particulars of email headers used in official government communication. After burning his first few questions on email protocols, Lauer prodded Clinton to respond “as briefly as you can” to a question from a veteran in the audience about her threshold for using military force.
But on Wednesday night, Trump got some help. Clinton and Donald Trump were making dueling appearances in New York in a live forum hosted by NBC’s Matt Lauer to address subjects including national security, veterans’ welfare, and sexual assault in the military. Here, Clinton was called upon once again to defend her emails, her hawkish foreign policy record — and ultimately answer for her femininity.
In the aftermath Lauer has been widely called out for what many saw as an unfair, sexist approach to moderating.

2 thoughts on “The Matt Lauer Catastrophe Edition

  1. Not to defend Lauer, but Cenk Uygur observed that he was only doing what MSM journos have done for decades – being tough on Dems while giving Reps an easier time. That said, it is clear that the media is (now) doing its best to attack Trump, so this was a strange performance by Lauer.


    1. I very much agree. However, I am stunned by his lack of preparation but the rest was fairly normal but that was a wonderful opportunity for some actual journalism. Thanks!! Please comment any time and if you’ve got something in a guest blog you’d like to do – let me know.
      James Pilant


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